Clerics are the stepchild of D&D. So much so that I read several times it should be dismissed as a class. And I agree in as far as it is a very difficult class to do right. This is where I see the main problem: A fighter has his choice of weapons and armor to define him, a magic-user has his choice of spells and a thief, even simpler, has a set of skills. Set your priorities and your done. Not so much the cleric. He's not defined by his choice of weapons or spells, he's defined by a God.
In this series of posts I will offer some ideas and house rules to make the OD&D cleric a more worthwhile (and visible) class.
What to do about it?
The easy way out was always to use the cleric as fighter support and/or heal-bot. Using him only for that makes it a very unrewarding class to play. Makes the player feel like taking a bullet for the team. I've been trying to get away from this since we started playing Rules Cyclopedia.
First part of the solution, although I didn't realize at the time, was to allow a dwarven cleric as a class. In retrospect it's quite easy to see why that worked. The God worshiped being the God of the dwarves made it easy for the player to emulate that as a believe. Which means, he didn't have to alter his perception of what it means to be a dwarf to be a cleric for them. But the player mostly criticized the lack of spells on level 1 and the weak development later. It needed one more change to make him happy.
So the second part was to allow sacrifices. Inspiration was the (excellent, but canceled) tv show Rome. In one episode one of the main characters, Lucius Vorenus (an officer of the roman army), gets his blessings in a temple. An ox is sacrificed and Lucius is bathed in the blood. They are pretty accurate about the multicultural daily life in Rome and the effects of polytheism. In addition to this scene, there are on a regular basis little shrines or cultists roaming the streets. It gave a good impression of how important those small rituals (and religions in general) were at the time. Clerics were a vital part of society. And mostly strange individuals with odd opinions and weird clothes. Here is what we did:
Sacrifices in D&D
|An ox about to be sacrificed (source: Wikipedia).|
What counts as a sacrifice depends on the individual believe and can be everything from treasure to creatures (alignment should be an indicator here). The ritual is concluded with a successful WIS-check (which may get bonuses for ritual knifes, oils or other materials, inferior materials will result in penalties, a critical failure means the cleric somehow insulted his God, etc.).
Whatever is used for the sacrifice, is always useless after the ritual (destroyed, buried, vanished in thin air, the DM is to decide what works best in his campaign). If the God accepted the sacrifice, a cleric gets at least 1 point Gratitude. This is cumulative as long as the cleric keeps a regular schedule of additional prayers (that is, the player mentions it in the game). Gratitude may be tested with a d100 in times of need. If successful, a minor wonder happens to aid the cleric. If a wonder occurs, Gratitude is reset to 0.
The value of the sacrifice defines the points in Gratitude a player might get gets. Every 500 gp or 1 HD are worth one point of gratitude. The worthiness of the offer in Gratitude Points, divided by the cleric's level is the duration of the ritual in days (but at least an hour).
Every true convert to the clerics believe is worth one point of Gratitude (assuming that the player put some work into it, makes a WIS-check unnecessary).
When using a shrine, altar or temple for the sacrifice, the cleric needs to state his intent. Pure devotion is for the benefit of the holy place*, seeking a blessing for a future endeavor is for Gratitude Points.
If he wants to use Gratitude points to help a fellow players, the penalty on the d100 is -25 for non-believers, -10 for casual believers and -5 for true believers. All points are lost, if the wonder occurs.
One try per situation is advised. A second try in the same situation is allowed (with a -10 penalty), but all points are lost, even if no wonder occurs.
It's a house rule we use for some time now and it worked like a charm. To get gratitude points, the player made very clear what he needed from the other players. He even converted two of them in the process. With a little tweak in the system, his god's name became a visible part of the Game and enhanced the overall experience.
There are some wider implications for the Game a DM might consider. For instance, knowing what kind of sacrifices are needed for an evil cult, could give some hints for the players about what they are dealing with. Or the magnitude of the ritual. In a more investigation oriented game, some stolen relics could hint towards the cult behind it and what kind of ritual is planned.
By the by, an impressive number of small cults to make the groups live more interesting and give some ideas what they might need for their rituals, is (of course) the Petty Gods Project.
Next up will be a selection of cleric spells, some mechanics for holy sites and I guess I'll write up the dwarven cleric we used in our Game to conclude the series.
*This will be part of another post. Basically it will effect the power of a holy site. Something that is not very much explored in the game.